Our work is far from over

Posted by watchmen
March 23, 2021
Posted in OPINION

Last February, in anticipation of International Women’s Day on March 8 and National Women’s Month here in the Philippines, Grant Thornton International released its 2021 Women in Business report. 23

The Philippines topped the said study for the second consecutive year with up to 48 percent of Filipinas surveyed holding senior management positions. Such result is significantly higher than the figure found for the entire globe, where 31 percent of senior management positions were held by women.

The report underscores yet again how in broad terms the Philippines is a global leader when it comes to gender equality and the status of women in society. In fact, ever since the World Economic Forum (WEF) started releasing its annual Global Gender Gap Index in 2006, the Philippines has consistently ranked high in terms of women’s economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. In the index’s latest version (2020), we ranked 16th out of 153 countries, making us the top across Asia in closing the gender gap.

This isn’t to say however that we’ve eradicated all forms of societal prejudice against women in the Philippines and achieved true gender equality.  On the contrary, many issues still cleave along gender lines, with women more often than not facing distinct disadvantages or increased vulnerabilities.

And the pandemic has all but exacerbated these issues.  For instance, a recent Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey commissioned by the Commission on Population and Development (POPCOM) found that 1 out of 4 respondents cited violence in various forms (whether physical, sexual, or emotional) as among the most pressing concerns of women amid the pandemic.

This was surpassed by only one other issue—early teenage pregnancy, which 2 out of 3 respondents in the survey said was the most important problem women are burdened with today. While agencies such as POPCOM have long called for action on this matter, advocates point out how the pandemic has exacerbated the issue because the community quarantines have made it difficult for young women to access reproductive health information and services, such as family planning consultations. The United Nations Population Fund even estimated that unintended pregnancies may have reached 2.56 million in 2020 because of this limited access.

There is also the fear that many girls and young women are falling behind with their studies.  A November 2020 survey by Plan International found that 70 percent of 1,203 female-respondents said that their education was the part of their lives  most affected by the pandemic, with nearly 50 percent worrying if they will return to school at all.

However, it appears education is not the only area where women have been put at an even greater disadvantage because of the pandemic. Women are also being hit in terms of their employment, given that they take up a higher percentage of positions in the services sector, which accounts for up to 64 percent of all the jobs lost in Metro Manila last 2020.

Throughout the past year, the dips in women’s labor force participation rate—the proportion of working-age females who are working or actively looking for work—have been consistently bigger than that of men.  Simply put, even more women have left the labor force now, as compared to men.

Some attribute this to the urgent demands of childcare amid the pandemic.  And where traditional gender norms often relegate this to be the sole responsibility of mothers, it’s possible that more women are dropping out of the workforce for this reason.  This is one reason many have called the global economic downturn as a “shecession.”

A June 2020 survey by Oxfam International found that over 50 percent of women-respondents from urban poor and marginalized communities in the Philippines reported that unpaid care and domestic work increased during COVID-19.  Interestingly, the survey also found that Filipino men are increasingly taking on childcare, with 65 percent of respondents feeling that their unpaid care and domestic work had increased during the pandemic—likely due to restrictions on movement and employment.

Of course, this isn’t to say that men aren’t suffering at all due to the pandemic. But clearly there are gendered dimensions to the ongoing crisis that any response or economic recovery package will need to consider.

If anything, the pandemic has emphasized how inequalities along gendered lines come with real human costs that affect both men and women. It has underscored that the work of uplifting women, even in a global exemplar like the Philippines, is far from over.


Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 16 years. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate. (E-mail: sensonnyangara@yahoo.com| Facebook, Twitter &Instagram: @sonnyangara)/WDJ

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